The feet on my ottoman are as long as rulers. The once-silky cheeks are covered in fuzz and prickles. The voice that squealed over Thomas the Train and implored me to look at his Buzz-Lightyear-like wingspan now barks deep commands at the television as his favorite soccer team attempts to score.
I watch all six feet of him climb into his truck and drive off to school, but what I still see is three feet of boy learning to ride his bicycle without training wheels on the driveway where he now parks. I see the cherubic face in a car seat clutching his stuffed lion and smiling at me in the rearview mirror. I still occasionally catch myself listening for tiny feet padding across the house on Saturday mornings and am surprised to bump into the sleepy man-child in flannel pajama bottoms in the hallway. While I know you can’t go back to those precious days of first steps, of bases run by little legs and baskets shot at lowered rims, of parades through the house and sword fights in the front yard, I sometimes catch a flash of memory and my heart aches for the little boy that once was even as I am awed by the young man who now fills my house with guitar chords and parades of teenage friends coming from his room to the fridge and back again.
Raising my son has been a gift in ways I never expected. When my daughter was not yet two and my mother had just died, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant and I cried to my father-in-law over my fear that I didn’t have the capacity to love another baby in the way I loved my daughter, nor did I have the capability to add more care-giving in a time when I was so consumed with grief. He put his arm around me and said, “Your heart will make room for your little boy and it will grow bigger than you know.” And he was right.
I didn’t know that the tiny guy who made old women at the mall smile and say “What a gentleman!” when he held the door open for them would become the young man who surprises young ladies by opening car doors for them. I was just teaching him manners. Now mothers of girls have told me, “That’s the first time any boy ever did that for my daughter and she didn’t know how to act, but I’m glad she knows now not to accept anything less.”
I didn’t comprehend that the little dude who wanted to lash out with balled up fists when provoked and was told to, “Use your words!” would become an eloquent speaker, negotiator among his peers and a self-advocate with his teachers. I was just teaching him to communicate properly.
I didn’t have the clarity to see that the small fella who reluctantly took out the trash and completed his chores with a grumble or two, would become a responsible, hard worker who doesn’t expect others to do things for him. I was just teaching him that everyone in a family has a job to do.
I didn’t grasp that the young child who I encouraged to play with his sister and her friends, and who happily joined them in dress-up and all sorts of sports would become a young man with deep respect for girls as his equals. I was just trying to get both kids occupied so I could get my own projects done.
I didn’t recognize that those tiny hands that printed out thank you notes after every birthday party would become a teenager with a sense of gratitude. I just wanted to make sure that gifts were acknowledged.
And when I flash to my memories of the little one who used to curl up in my lap while this big guy wraps his giant wingspan arms around me with a strength and compassion that I know I’ve helped him cultivate, I realize that we’ve filled these fleeting years well and there are even bigger things to come.